Brian Doyle investigates Edmund Burke’s personal life in this month’s American Scholar. Though almost everyone of a certain cultural-political persuasion “claims Edmund Burke as his patron saint, political forefather, lodestar and compass point, ancestral bulwark against the tide of whatever seething modern ill he despises,” it turns out the revered Anglo-Irish parliamentarian had a rather bawdy and immature sense of humor, as well as quirks that are often signs of genius:
Burke the actual man is faded away—the man his wife called Ned, fond of vulgar puns and lewd jokes, an ample man, thin as a lad and then never again; the chatterbox “never unwilling to begin to talk, nor in haste to leave off,” as Samuel Johnson said (probably with a tinge of self-recognition); the man whose first schooling was in a ruined castle in rural Cork, because Catholics were forbidden education under imperial law; the man who lost one son early and the other too soon; the man who would launch into such furious and vituperative speech in Parliament that his friends would have to haul him down into his seat by his coattails…
Doyle’s piece is fun, though it also treats seriously other, more tragic (and, it’s fair to say, lesser-appreciated) aspects of Burke’s life, such as the loss of his infant son Christopher and his late-in-life descent into penury.
Read the entire piece here.